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“Dr. Alon Ben-Meir Analyzes the Global Refugee Crisis, Politics of the Middle East, and Turkey’s Dual Migration Challenges”

In this conversation, we have the privilege of gaining Dr. Ben-Meir’s expert insights on the emerging refugee crisis and the intricate politics of the Middle East, with a special focus on Turkey. As the global refugee crisis continues to unfold, and millions of people are on the move across continents, Dr. Ben-Meir sheds light on the uncertainties that lie ahead for Western and Middle Eastern countries. Drawing attention to the lack of coordination among nations, overwhelmed international agencies, and ongoing conflicts, he highlights the daunting challenges faced by those seeking effective solutions. With a keen understanding of Turkey’s position as both a host country for refugees and a nation with its citizens seeking asylum abroad, Dr. Ben-Meir shares his assessment of the situation and the potential implications for the region. Furthermore, he discusses the recent Turkish Presidential Election results and the issues of effective opposition in the country, providing valuable insights into the complex political landscape. The interview also delves into the Erdogan regime’s actions against the Gulen Movement, analyzing the motivations behind the harsh treatment and persecution.

Thank you, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, for granting us this interview for the Politurco News Portal. We would like to have your precious remarks about the emerging refugee crisis and the politics of the Middle East with an exclusive emphasis on Turkey.

Global Refugee Crisis

I would like to start the interview with this question: The West and some Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt face the crisis of millions of refugees arriving mostly from the conflict zones worldwide. How do you see the future with all these uncertainties and the million-people movements across continents?

The refugee crisis is one that will continue to plague Middle Eastern and European countries for years to come. To begin with, there is hardly any coordination between the countries to which the refugees are trying to reach. EU members in particular are weary of receiving an influx of refugees, not only because in principle they do not want to increase the numbers of minority groups, but also due to the astronomical cost to settle them, which is of a great concern to Middle Eastern countries. The second problem is that UNHCR (the United Nations Refugee Agency) is overwhelmed with the massive number of refugees and is also experiencing considerable shortages of funding. And finally, given that the ongoing violent conflicts are likely to intensify rather abate, and due to climate change coupled with poverty in the countries of origin, the prosect of dealing with this crisis in any effective way is not promising.

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Refugee Crisis in Turkey

You are also an expert on the Middle East affairs and follow Turkey closely. While Turkey is the host country for millions of regular and irregular refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere, thousands of Turkish citizens seek asylum in Western countries due to political, social and economic hardships in Turkey. May we have your assessment and opinion about these circumstances?

In some way, Turkey is unique in that it is a destination for many refugees, while at the same time many Turkish citizens want to leave the country because of President Erdogan’s authoritarian rule and his ruthlessness in dealing with his perceived or real enemies as well as the financial hardships that they have been experiencing in recent years. That said, Turkey continues to receive billions of euros in financial aid from the European community to help Turkey in settling and providing refugees with their basic needs, conditioned upon Erdogan keeping the refugees in Turkey and not letting them cross into European countries. Here too, there is a strong likelihood that the dual migration crises—refugees in Turkey and Turks seeking asylum in Europe—are not likely to be mitigated any time soon, certainly not before Erdogan leaves the political scene. The one thing that might ease the Syrian refugee problem in Turkey is that hundreds of thousands of them are going back to Syria now that the civil war in the country has been winding down.     

Views on the result of Turkey’s Presidential Election

You also published an article titled ‘Turkish voters must not forget Erdogan’s evil deeds’ on May 10. What motivated you to write this article? How do you evaluate the latest election results that favored Erdogan through a chain reaction of political developments affecting the entire region?

Erdogan is a merciless authoritarian; since the failed coup in particular, Erdogan has cracked down on just about everyone from all walks of life, from the military, the academia, the press, the Kurds, and his political opponents, making their lives miserable. He incarcerated tens of thousands and he still to this day continues to wreak havoc on anyone who he perceives to be his enemy. He won the election because he has and was able to keep his loyal followers happy through all kind of subsidies, especially though because he used all the levers of power at his disposal to manipulate the electoral system in his favor. 

This election also brought to the surface the deeply-rooted issue of effective opposition in Turkey. Do you think the toothless opposition problem in Turkey apply to all countries in the region, or is it a choice or design of the so-called Establishment? As an American expert on the issue and an academic who observe the region closely, what do you think about this chronic Turkish issue?

There is really no effective opposition in any of the Arab states in the region. Just about every country is authoritarian, and some like the Gulf states and Jordan enjoy a benevolent “dictatorship,” which the public accepts and which is not likely to change any time soon. As far as Turkey is concerned, I have said it time and again to many high-level individuals from the CHP that they need a more dynamic, younger, and articulate leader who could take on Erdogan. Now that the opposition again lost the election, I believe that a new leader will be elected, but then of course Erdogan has now five more years to rule, and many things can change between now and then.    

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Witch-Hunt on the Gulen Movement

You also covered the humanitarian issues meted out to the participants of the Gulen Movement by the Erdogan regime since the so-called failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt. How do you appraise these despotic practices of the Erdogan regime against a transnational and faith-inspired civil movement?

As long as Erdogan is in power, he will continue to persecute anyone who is even perceived to be a follower of Fetullah Gülen. Erdogan needs an enemy as a scapegoat which he can exploit to maintain his iron grip on power. For this reason, he blamed Gülen for the military coup in July of 2016 (as a gift from God). I do not expect that the Turkish people can or will organize a civil movement to check Erdogan’s power, and they may well have to suffer until he leaves the political scene.   

In your opinion, what exactly makes Erdogan hate the Gulen Movement so excessively?

As I indicated above, Erdogan needs an enemy like Fetullah Gülen, especially also because of his religious credentials, something that Erdogan himself wants to project (being a devout Muslim). The last thing Erdogan wants is to have someone else, like Gülen, compete with him on that particular score. So, it is not a question of hatred, Erdogan views Gülen as an arch political opponent that must be silenced. For this reason, he was seeking to extradite Gülen from the US, however to no avail, as he was unable to produce any evidence of Gülen’s culpability in the coup.

Weakened Social Movements in Middle East

As an expert of Middle East politics, why do you think governments oppose any social initiative at any stage in the region? Do you think the lack of strong social movements in the region as one but a strong reason for the unending conflict in the Middle East?

There is no question that there are no significant social movements in much of the Middle East, precisely because of the governing nature in most of the countries in the region. Social and economic inequality, political rivalry, and ethnic conflict within the countries involved certainly contribute to instability and often violence. The various governments in the region stifle the development of social movements, fearing that such movements would challenge the governing authority and weaken their levers on power. I do not expect that this state of sorry affairs will change as fast as we would like to see it change.    

Refugee Crisis in the United States

Thousands of regular and irregular migrants from the Central American and Middle Eastern countries enter the United States from the border crossings daily. Having followed a tough path to find freedom and safety in the United States also face hardships after their entry. In your opinion, what is commendable or lamentable with the Biden administration on the border management and settlement of the asylum seekers in the US?

The immigration problem in the US has been haunting the country for decades. No US administration, going back more than two decades, has been able to enact a comprehensive immigration policy that deals effectively with the influx of immigrants from South and Central America. Sadly, as much as President Biden would have liked to find an acceptable and humane resolution to this endemic problem, Biden is constrained because any comprehensive solution would require bipartisan support, which is not within reach as this juncture. Indeed, as long as Trump continues to be the dominant figure of the Republican Party, not to speak about the continuing political “turmoil” that we are experiencing today, no such a comprehensive immigration legislation will be enacted.

Suggestions to Solve the Global Refugee Issue

Refugee crises in several parts of the world are mostly instigated by political chaos and conflicts. What can be the best working solution to slow down the refugee movement across the globe?

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There is really no simple solution to the refugee problem, not only because of the political chaos in many parts of the world, but for many other reasons that we touched on above. Indeed, as long as there is climate change, poverty, authoritarianism, discrimination, and internal and external conflicts between various countries, no comprehensive solution will be found. The refugee problem will be with us for a long time, as any solution would require extensive cooperation and collaboration between many countries impacted directly or indirectly by the refugee problem. I do not see that happening any time soon.

Thank you for sharing your valuable insights on these pivotal emerging global and regional issues.

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Engin Yigit is a Politurco columnist, activist, and author. Follow him at @enginyigtt.


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